Tea Expert, Anne Pawlak shares how the ritual of tea helps us be still and listen
Focusing on our senses can often bring up a wave of sentiment that helps us reawaken our appreciation of life. Anne is the founder of Fortune Exploits, a movement dedicated to reigniting the relationship people have with their surroundings and all things living. Through her careful selection of tea, physical surroundings, aesthetics and community building, Anne is one of the creatives in Berlin changing our relationship with food and drink.
Before Anne comes to lead one of her very special tea workshops in the Hund Hund Studio, we sat down with her to find out more.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE TEA WORKSHOP THAT YOU WILL RUN IN THE HUND HUND SPACE ON THE 27TH OF APRIL? WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT?
Our senses are essential to how we perceive the world around us. Smell is probably our most vital one as we use it to detect danger, pheromones and food. It can also trigger physical and emotional responses. This happens often but, we don’t perceive it consciously. This workshop will train your sense of smell with Oolongs the ‘Aromatics’ of tea. During the gathering, people will discover how terroir and tea growers influence flavour and aroma. The workshop will run for 1.5 hours and will include an introduction to Oolong, tea calibration, tea tasting and the creation of your own flavour profile. All are welcome to take part and can sign in through the event page.
WHERE ARE YOU CURRENTLY BASED?
I was born and raised here in Berlin, and am currently living in Friedrichshain.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND? WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL JOURNEY TO MAKING TEA YOUR SPECIALITY?
Originally I studied theatre design and always drank tea but didn't know much about it. I don’t set New Year resolutions, but 2011 was the year I decided to make understanding tea my challenge. Since then I have been working in tea and have lived in tea producing countries such as Japan. A project of mine is to share this knowledge by giving workshops and seminars, that further my own knowledge. Just like with anything, you start learning little by little, and then you actually realise you’ve only just scratched the surface. So, learning about tea is a little bit like learning about life. It's the process you need to enjoy, not the finished piece.
WHERE DO YOU SOURCE YOUR TEAS FROM? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE REGIONS AND WHAT TEAS ARE YOU DRINKING RIGHT NOW?
I source either directly from the tea grower or trusted dealers that work with the tea masters long-term. My favourite tea type is Oolong, but the variation I prefer depends on the season. However, some of my favourite teas are Wuyi Rock teas or teas from the Phoenix Mountains in China. My go-to tea at the moment is a particular Japanese black tea, that is treated to an extra roast by the tea seller. It's called Black Sun, after David Bowie.
HOW DID THIS MANIFEST INTO FORTUNATE EXPLOITS? CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS AND ITS PHILOSOPHY? WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT YOUR APPROACH TO TEA?
The name is derived from the Scottish biologist and plant hunter Robert Fortune. He was an adventurer and his work is one reason why we can enjoy tea in the west today; For all the tea in China is a good read for unlocking the story behind this. I founded the project under his name as a platform for sharing tea and tea knowledge.
My approach is knowledge is leading. Much like with everything we consume, the more we know, the more we learn to appreciate; propelling us to invest time and money. With this topic, there is a lot of information I feel needs to be shared, but most of all I want people to experience the spirit of tea through hospitality. The tea I use is always sourced sustainably and ethically, it is not grown with pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers.
The spaces I hold workshops in must reflect my philosophy of simplicity, aesthetics, community. Aesthetics always has an unspoken presence. The design of tea rooms and tea utensils are very holistic; much like stage-design, everything has a purpose, nothing is there for no reason. Tea is Simplicity, all you need is leaves, water and a bowl. Connecting with people over tea is one of the principal purposes of my workshops. The ritual has the ability to bring people together and allow them to open up and build a Community. This is what has inspired me to do collaborations and combine my tea workshops with other practices like Yoga or Essential Oils.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE TEA INDUSTRY? HOW MUCH PROGRESS HAS IT MADE, WHAT ARE SOME RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND CHANGES YOU HAVE SEEN?
This topic is extensive. Let's just say, like the rise of speciality coffee, the perception of tea is shifting too, but unlike coffee, tea is entirely produced from start to finish in the countries of origin. This means all the knowledge regarding tea production; growing, harvest, processing and storage are not always traced. So logged transparency and quality control are still an issue. Yet, there is an uprise of information that is now becoming accessible to customers. This is mostly thanks to service providers, cafes and restaurants; like Postcard Teas and Companion which are doing such an important job.
A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ACCUSTOMED TO BUYING BOXED TEA FROM THEIR SUPERMARKET AND ARE UNAWARE OF THE BENEFITS OF SPECIALITY TEAS. WHAT ARE THEY ARE MISSING OUT ON?
Well, supermarket tea barely has any transparency, in regards to the origin of the tea, how it was produced, who produced it, its purity and if it has been treated with artificial chemicals; to cover up any tea defects, not to enhance its original flavour. Likewise, there is almost zero information on how old the leaves are; this is known as commodity grade tea. It contains between 10 and 60 different tea leaves from various countries, blended and sorted for consistency. They are often the product of very young tea plants which are replaced every 3 years or less and have been treated with pesticides and fertilisers if not worse.
When discussing health, like fruits and vegetables, the components that make tea healthy are usually volatile. This means the fresher, purer and minimally processed leaves dispense the most benefits.
For example, most Matcha labelled tea is not from Japan and contains non-shaded tea leaves that aren't stone ground nor stored at the correct temperature, and yet are sold at high prices. When overlooked heat, air and light destroy antioxidants and other volatile nutrient components, hence defeating the purpose of drinking Matcha in the first place. Proper Matcha is shaded for 4 weeks before processing and stored at low temperatures until consumption. It comes from Japan and has been stone ground to a texture so fine that you can run it into the lines of your fingerprint. This is why speciality tea tastes, smells, feels and looks different compared to mass-produced commodity grade tea.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF CONSUMING ETHICALLY SOURCED TEA? HOW IS THE WEALTH MORE EQUALLY DISTRIBUTED INTO THESE ECONOMIES AND THEIR TEA GROWERS?
This works differently in every tea producing country and is very complex. But like with fashion the more directly you can trade, the fairer the deal.
Organic and fairtrade certifications are almost doing as much damage as good as they always come down to money and are often exploited as marketing tools by large companies. Small tea producers cannot afford these certifications since they are often tied to a continent or country. So, for example, the requirements for organic tea in Japan are different from Europe; presenting barriers for entry for independent tea growers as they will require both certifications plus need to ensure that the distributor is also certified.
The parameters of what qualifies as organic are also a tricky business. Organic tea that does not contain artificial chemicals does not always equate to excellent quality tea. The terroir, age and quality of the plant, as well as the processing method, are just as important.
WHAT WAS ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL EXPERIENCES THAT EVOLVED YOUR VIEWPOINT OF TEA?
Last year I spent three months living and working on a Japanese tea farm while I studied Japanese tea ceremonies. I had a false predisposition that lead me to believe that a Japanese tea ceremony was rigid and unpleasant with all its specific rules on how to walk, talk and drink tea, when in fact it proved to be the complete opposite. The principles of Chanoyu are harmony, tranquillity, respect and purity. The ceremony intends to provide a peaceful and pleasant experience for the guest.
My teacher Nakai sensei is a local tea farmer, Ikebana teacher and tea ceremony master of Sencha-do and Chanoyu. She only spoke Japanese, and I didn't. So there was a lot of communication through our hands and feet. After teaching me for half an hour on how to enter and exit the tea room, she said: “The most important thing is to make good tea for the guest.” Drinking tea with her was one of the best things I have ever taken part in. It’s hard to express; it’s something that needs to be experienced in person.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
I like drinking tea and connecting with people in a meaningful way. The technology that was designed to make us more social has had the opposite effect as people have lost touch with their interpersonal communication. Talking, paying attention and asking questions are fundamental for meaningful human interactions, and tea lets us be still and lets us listen.
THE RITUAL OF TEA INVITES MANY DIFFERENT CRAFTS, WHO ARE SOME INTERESTING MAKERS YOU’VE HAD THE PLEASURE OF MEETING DURING YOUR JOURNEY?
I’ve especially enjoyed meeting members of the group GO-ON. It’s a collective of Japanese craftsmen in Kyoto whose mission it is to revive and reshape the image of Japanese craftsmanship. Forget any predisposed image of grumpy old men, sitting in darkened rooms, hunched over their precious handiwork. Through applying their progressive methods and techniques to modern day life, they are shifting the shape of their objects and simultaneously the way people interact with them and their craft.
Decoding Oolong Tea Event Info:
Text curation by Michelle Torres